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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | March 7, 2022

5 takeaways from the 2022 ACC wrestling tournament

Korbin Myers thanks the sport of wrestling for its gifts

Over the course of twelve hours on Sunday, March 6, one of the nations’ smallest Division I wrestling conferences made huge headlines with individual upsets and dominant performances, all of which culminated in a fourth-consecutive ACC title for the N.C. State Wolfpack. The Pack will now bring all ten starters to Detroit for the 2022 NCAA championship and look to chase their first top-four team trophy since 2018. 

Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s ACC tournament and the athletes who came home with gold: 

Wolfpack shows off depth and development in conference tournament win 

The N.C. State Wolfpack, following an undefeated ACC dual season, raced through the conference tournament with four individual champions, seven total finalists and 10 top-three finishes. Sophomore Trent Hidlay, a 2021 NCAA finalist, headlined the Wolfpack’s success with a major decision over North Carolina’s Gavin Kane 11-0 in the finals. Hidlay, a 2021 NCAA finalist, won the ACC tournament last year as well after a narrow victory over Virginia Tech’s Hunter Bolen, and he’s continued his winning ways this season by claiming another conference victory. Dominant, powerful and dynamic, Hidlay’s point-scoring capabilities have energized his team throughout the season, and he’s looking like a title contender yet again. 

ACC CHAMPS: Here's how N.C. State beat Virginia Tech in the 2022 dual

His championship teammate Tariq Wilson, a two-time third-place finisher at the NCAA tournament, also added his own ACC win to N.C. State’s impressive list of results on Sunday, as he maintained his undefeated record with a 10-4 win over a tricky, funky Bryce Andonian of Virginia Tech. Hidlay and Wilson are each one of just two athletes in their respective weight classes with undefeated seasons so far, and their elite performance puts them in a favorable position heading into the national tournament. 

Holiday and Wilson, though, weren’t the only two Pack wrestlers to bring home a championship. Jakob Camacho and Ed Scott, at 125 and 157 pounds, also topped the No. 1 seed at their weight classes to earn meaningful and significant ACC titles against All-American opponents. Scott, in perhaps the biggest upset of the tournament, took down 2021 NCAA Champion Austin O’Connor to earn the biggest win of his career and deliver the Tar Heel his second loss of the season. In his second year as a starter for the Pack, Scott is now 24-2 overall with his only losses coming against Jake Keating of Virginia and his teammate AJ Kovacs. Scott reversed the Keating loss in the first round of the ACC tournament, pinning the Cavalier in the first period to advance in the tournament. Wherever Scott ends up in the bracket, he’ll be a landmine and someone capable of bringing top-level opponents down to the mat, and even putting them on their back. 

While Scott’s win had the flash, Camacho’s victory was more persistent, as the young lightweight finally earned a hard-fought win over Virginia Tech rival All-American Sam Latona. The Hokie had the last five wins against Camacho, but, on Sunday night in Virginia, Camacho found a way, and his 3-1 win gave him the title and the momentum. The growth, chemistry and culture of N.C. State has been a storyline all year, as head coach Pop Popolizio continues to build a southern dynasty in Raleigh behind veteran athlete leadership and fresh incoming talent, and this tournament was the latest demonstration of that effort. 

Mehki Lewis will lead the ACC at 174 pounds. How does he stack up nationally this year? 

The strength of N.C. State and the consistency of their top performers is one reason among many that Virginia Tech Mekhi Lewis’ win over Hayden Hidlay is so notable. The Hokie, who dropped to Hidlay 3-1 in sudden victory during their dual, reversed that result in the semifinals of the ACC wrestling tournament to advance to another ACC final. His 3-2 performance in that match led him to face North Carolina’s Clay Lautt, previously the only wrestler from the ACC to beat Hidlay, and Lewis went on to beat Lautt 4-2 with his typical disciplined wrestling. 

Hidlay won his last four ACC titles, so for Lewis to unseat him in this event is significant, and it’s even more important for seeding purposes at what could be one of the deepest weights in the NCAA tournament. Lewis has just one loss on the year, the overtime match against Hidlay, while the Wolfpack graduate student has two losses, the one against Lewis and one against Lautt. In the 2019 tournament, Lewis came back from the No. 8 seed to win the entire tournament after topping two-time champion Vincenzo Joseph in the finals, and while he medically forfeited out last year, the Hokie champ has the potential to bring home gold again. He’s looking like he’s back to full strength and full form. Now he’ll just have to keep this rolling for another five matches. 

Conference depth creates seeding intrigue 

Diving deeper into the depth that is 174 pounds and the national landscape as a whole, Lewis’ victory will likely give him the edge of Hidlay in the bracket, but this weight is deep no matter where you start. Penn State’s Carter Starocci stayed undefeated this season and won the Big Ten, so he’s a likely candidate for the No. 1 seed, while Big Ten runner-up Logan Massa is 16-2 with his losses both coming against Starocci. Add in 2021 NCAA finalist Michael Kemerer, who forfeited out of Big Tens to finish sixth, then add 2018 NCAA finalist Hayden Hidlay who took third in the ACCs, plus 2021 third-place NCAA finisher Mikely Labriola who has a win over Kemerer, and you have the insanity that is 174 pounds. Oh, and North Carolina ACC finalist Clay Lautt and 2021 Big Ten finalist Ethan Smith might also have something to say at this weight as well. Lewis benefits from his win of Hidlay, but his advantage will only carry him so far seed-wise in a weight with this much talent. 

HOKIE HERO: Mekhi Lewis captures first NCAA title for Virginia Tech in 2019 

The ACC also created some questions around 184 pounds, where N.C. State’s Trent Hidlay, the younger brother of Hayden, stayed undefeated and put himself in the conversation for the top seed at his weight. His teammate Tariq Wilson also has a case to earn a No. 1 spot at 149 pounds, though Hidlay’s potential for this coveted spot is a little higher than Wilson’s, as Wilson also has two-time NCAA champion and undefeated 149-pounder Yianni Diakomilahlis at his weight.

Diakomihalis is a likely choice for that first seed, given his dominance rate, but credit belongs to Wilson for putting himself in this discussion as another undefeated conference champ. Regardless of their rank heading into the NCAA tournament, both will look to replicate their championship performances again in two weeks and raise the roof. These two Wolfpack wrestlers have the best records in the conference, but the other champs could make runs for titles as well and took the first step towards a better seed with their conference wins. While exact seeds for the national tournament won’t be revealed until Wednesday, these results all could result in interesting storyline twists in each weight class. 

STATE OF THE WEIGHT: The top NCAA wrestling contenders, challengers at 125 pounds

On the other end of the weight spectrum, 125 pounds is, of course, also crazy tight, with Nick Suriano winning the Big Ten title in an effort that makes him the likely leader at the weight, and Vito Arujua making things interesting by beating Patrick Glory in the EIWAs. N.C. State’s Jakob Camacho likely falls behind all three of those guys, though beating an All-American like Sam Latona in conference finals is major for his seeding potential. His teammate Ed Scott’s win at 157 also creates chaos, but that weight is right now led by two undefeated wrestlers outside the ACC in Ryan Deakin of Northwestern and David Carr of Iowa State, so the remainder of the wrestlers will be expected to fall in some order behind those two stars. 

If all of the ACC brackets went chalk, the excitement, intrigue and drama would have been minimized, so these five weights kept fans on their feet. The remainder of the tournament — 133, 141, 165, 197 and 285 — belonged to the top seeds, but there were still a number of important insights gained from watching those performances. 

Hokies lean on experience in runner-up finish 

In addition to Mekhi Lewis’ championship performance, Virginia Tech also had two additional champions at 133 and 285 pounds in graduate students Korbin Myers and Nathan Traxler, both of whom undoubtedly have podium aspirations at nationals and can carry with them to Detroit the confidence that comes from their conference championship. 

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Myers, who won his second consecutive conference title, topped an always competitive Micky Phillippi 4-2 to move ahead to nationals with an 18-1 record. The Hokie's only loss on the year came against Michael McGee of Arizona State 8-7, and he'll throw a wrench in a fun 133-pound weight class once again. Myers finished fourth in last year's NCAA tournament to earn his first All-American honor, and he'll likely be seeded right around that position with his win. Looking at Myers competitors, Pac-12 champion McGee has two losses on the year, one to NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young and one to Job Greenwood earlier in the year, so he'll be in the mix in two weeks along with Bravo-Young, of course, as well three-time Big 12 champion Daton Fix and two-time Big Ten finalist Austin DeSanto. Virginia Tech's second place performance at ACCs makes the Hokies an outside shot to compete for team trophy in Detroit, but a high finish from Myers helps their cause and keeps them in the fight. 

Another consistent force for Virginia Tech this year has been heavyweight ACC champ Nathan Traxler who will have the difficult task of needing to outplace Olympian Gable Steveson if he wants to take home a national title. Traxler beat N.C. State's Tyrie Houghton 9-6 in the ACC heavyweight finals, and this win was crucial for Traxler to keep his seed as high as possible for NCAAs. His only losses this year came against All-American Tate Orndorff and Virginia's Quinn Miller, but he's a podium threat without question. Traxler has finished in the Round of 12 twice in his career. Is this the year he comes through and ends up Top 8? 

Pitt produced three conference champions. What would it take for the Panthers to have two NCAA finalists again this year? 

The Pittsburgh Panthers made history in nationals last year when two of the team’s wrestlers advanced to the NCAA finals for the first time since 1963. Now, back a year later at the conference tournament, Pittsburgh put three athletes on top of the podium on Sunday and set itself up for strong NCAAs in two week. Both of the 2021 NCAA finalists — Jake Wentzel and Nino Bonaccorsi — won gold in their conference brackets and now focus ahead on the biggest event of the season. Cole Matthews at 141 pounds added a title of his own, outpacing an impressive Ryan Jack and an experienced Kizhan Clarke to take home gold. 

Bonaccorsi, who competes in the wide-open weight class of 197 pounds, topped a rising Isaac Trumble 5-2 in his bracket to bring his record to 15-3 on the year, his losses coming against Trumble in the dual and Greg Bulsak and Patrick Brucki earlier in the year. Brucki finished third at the Big Ten tournament, giving him a solid resume ahead of the seeding meeting on Wednesday, but Bonaccorsi is certainly a title contender himself. Nationally, Penn State’s Max Dean leads the weight, and he beat Brucki in sudden victory earlier this year. Beating Dean will be a challenge for anyone, but Bonaccorsi has shown that he can make his way to Saturday night of the NCAA tournament, and if the Panthers can capture some momentum in the early rounds, Pitt could make a run again. 

Pitt's second returning finalist, Jake Wentzel, took control of 165 pounds at the ACC tournament with his 7-0 shutout win over Virginia's Justin McCoy, but, much like last year, Wentzel will need even higher ranked wins at NCAA to make the finals. In his weight class, he'll have four-time Big Ten champion Alex Marinelli, 2021 NCAA Champion Shane Griffith, 2022 Pac-12 champ Evan Wick, 2021 Pac-12 champion Anthony Valencia, 2022 Big 12 champion Keegan O'Toole, Big Ten Freshman of the Year Dean Hamiti and Big Ten No. 1 seed Carson Kharchla to beat. His road is deep, but his teammate Cole Matthews has a more top-heavy bracket at 141 pounds that he'll have to navigate. 

Matthews has been a shining star on this solid Pitt squad all year, racking up a 17-2 record with his only losses coming against CJ Composto and Dylan D'Emilio. Matthews set himself up for postseason success with his first ACC title against Ryan Jack, and while his weight is tough with Big Ten leaders Nick Lee, Jaydin Eierman and Sebastian Rivera, serious credit belongs to the Panther for his fight and grit early this postseason. If Pitt repeats history and puts multiple athletes in the finals, Matthews might just be only one upset win away from being one of those athletes. 

Complete list of champions: 

  • 125– Jakob Camacho (NCSU) dec. Sam Latona (VT),  3-1
  • 133 – Korbin Myers (VT) dec. Micky Phillippi (PITT), 4-2
  • 141 – Cole Matthews (PITT) dec. Ryan Jack (NCSU), 3-2
  • 149 – Tariq Wilson (NCSU) dec. Bryce Andonian (VT), 10-4
  • 157 – Ed Scott (NCSU) dec. Austin O’Connor (UNC), 3-2
  • 165 – Jake Wentzel (PITT) dec. Justin McCoy (UVA), 7-0
  • 184 – Trent Hidlay (NCSU) major dec. Gavin Kane (UNC), 11-0
  • 197 – Nino Bonaccorsi (PITT) dec. Isaac Trumble (NCSU), 5-2
  • 285 – Nathan Traxler (VT) dec. Tyrie Houghton (NCSU), 9-6

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